It is widely accepted that orbital variations are responsible for the generation of glacial cycles during the late Pleistocene. However, the relative contributions of the orbital forcing compared to CO2 variations and other feedback mechanisms causing the waxing and waning of ice sheets have not been fully understood. Testing theories of ice ages beyond statistical inferences, requires numerical modeling experiments that capture key features of glacial transitions. Here, we focus on the glacial buildup from Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 7 to 6 covering the period from 240 to 170 ka (ka: thousand years before present). This transition from interglacial to glacial conditions includes one of the fastest Pleistocene glaciation-deglaciation events, which occurred during MIS 7e-7d-7c (236-218 ka). Using a newly developed three-dimensional coupled atmosphere-ocean-vegetation-ice sheet model (LOVECLIP), we simulate the transient evolution of Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere ice sheets during the MIS 7-6 period in response to orbital and greenhouse gas forcing. For a range of model parameters, the simulations capture the evolution of global ice volume well within the range of reconstructions. Over the MIS 7-6 period, it is demonstrated that glacial inceptions are more sensitive to orbital variations, whereas terminations from deep glacial conditions need both orbital and greenhouse gas forcings to work in unison. For some parameter values, the coupled model also exhibits a critical North American ice sheet configuration, beyond which a stationary-wave-ice-sheet topography feedback can trigger an unabated and unrealistic ice sheet growth. The strong parameter sensitivity found in this study originates from the fact that delicate mass imbalances, as well as errors, are integrated during a transient simulation for thousands of years. This poses a general challenge for transient coupled climate-ice sheet modeling, with such coupled paleo-simulations providing opportunities to constrain such parameters.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Global and Planetary Change